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Rackspace OpenStack Cloud is Open for Business

Two years after publicly kicking off its effort to develop an open-source cloud computing platform and community, Rackspace can finally say its core infrastructure as a service runs on OpenStack.

As of August 1, Racskpace Cloud Servers, which offers Linux and Windows compute services, and Rackspace Cloud Databases, a database service powered by MySQL, run on the OpenStack platform. To administer the new open IaaS, Rackspace also released a new control panel. In the coming months, Rackspace will add an API-driven monitoring system, private software defined networks to create virtual interfaces to one's own datacenter and block storage.

Though Rackspace's Cloud Files storage service has been OpenStack-based since 2010, the availability of core compute services is a major milestone for the open source project. Rackspace has bet its business on OpenStack and with its founding co-developer NASA, the project has since brought on more than 180 member companies including household names AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM and cloud pure-plays Appfog, CloudBees, Cloudscaling, enStratus, and RightScale. Many of these companies have committed to either contributing to the project or using OpenStack in their own offerings.

While this week's launch is an important stake in the ground for the OpenStack project, the cutover of the new Cloud Servers and Cloud Databases is equally an important step forward for Rackspace, which early-on promised to revamp its entire cloud portfolio to support the OpenStack specs just as it has encouraged other cloud providers to do. Moving forward, any Rackspace customer provisioning compute instances will be doing so on the new OpenStack-based Cloud Servers.

Customers can move their existing Rackspace instances to the new OpenStack servers with minimal downtime, as explained to me by Rackspace CTO John Engates. "You want to make sure you've stopped all the databases and prepped them to be migrated but the truth is the old cloud and new cloud are similar," Engates said. "They use the same hypervisors, the same fundamental virtual machine architecture, it's just a matter of making sure as we move those workloads over and we get the data captured in a state that allows customers to bring them back up without data corruption."

Engates said customers are under no deadline to move existing workloads to the new OpenStack servers. But anyone deploying new instances will probably want to run them on the new OpenStack infrastructure, he said. In the coming months, Rackspace will offer tools that will simplify the migration.

Racskpace's OpenStack transition is a big bet that will give the cloud provider a shot to take on IaaS market leader Amazon Web Services. By gaining a coalition of other cloud providers to commit to OpenStack, Rackspace is saying that customers don't have to put all of their eggs in one basket. That's because in addition to providing portability with public clouds offered by AT&T, Dell, HP and IBM, among numerous other public cloud operators, OpenStack, if it delivers as promised, will provide compatibility with private clouds running behind a customer's firewall.

"The advantage of working with Rackspace is you're not locked into a particular provider's platform, it's a platform that is open, ubiquitous and you can pick up and take elsewhere," Engates said. Well, the ubiquitous part remains to be seen. So far, Rackspace is the first major cloud provider to roll out a substantial OpenStack IaaS but many key functions such as network and block storage are still in preview mode.

Coincidently or not, HP this week launched its OpenStack public cloud, though its compute services are still not generally available (ironically it's the block storage HP launched). And there are Amazon alternatives offered by the likes of Eucalyptus and Nimbula.

Yet a number of Amazon customers in recent days have started provisioning servers on the preview of Rackspace Cloud Servers, observed AppFog marketing director Chris Tacy. Last week 10 percent of AppFog's customers moved their workloads from Amazon to the beta of Rackspace Cloud Servers running OpenStack, according to Tacy. AppFog is a growing cloud provider that offers a platform as a service (PaaS) layer on compute services from Amazon, Rackspace, Microsoft and others.

Tacy attributes the influx of movement largely to Amazon's recent spate of outages, coupled with high hopes for OpenStack and Rackspace's reputation. "Right now OpenStack is extremely hot, a lot of developers are excited about it," said Tacy, who has spent more than 20 years as a developer. Tacy believes many of the customers who defected from Amazon will return once it resolves the issues that have afflicted its east coast datacenters.

To be determined, he said, is whether OpenStack will live up to its promise. Until the governance issues of the OpenStack Foundation are ironed out, many will continue to view OpenStack as a Rackspace-controlled effort, though Engates emphasized that while at one point Rackspace contributed 90 percent of the OpenStack code, now it comprises about 50 percent. Rackspace Cloud founder Jonathan Bryce last month told me he is hopeful that the handoff to the foundation will happen by year's end. But some have complained about the pace of the transition and there are reports that some of the wrangling taking place is bogging down that process.

And while OpenStack is positioned as an alternative to Amazon Web Services, other options include CloudStack, an effort championed by OpenStack member Citrix that has since proposed an open source cloud compute alternative, a move that has fragmented the OpenStack cause. There are other IaaS alternatives in the wings including an upgrade of Microsoft's Windows Azure service and Google Compute Engine. Though those don't promise the portability that OpenStack espouses, that doesn't mean they won't offer such compatibility in some way down the road either by joining the effort or finding other ways to bridge the gap.

Regardless, OpenStack's success hinges on proven interoperability within its own universe. And that will only come to pass once several IaaS providers build out their OpenStack clouds.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/02/2012 at 1:14 PM


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